ROME — Pope Francis on Sunday made his first public appearance since undergoing colon surgery last week, greeting the faithful from a balcony at Gemelli hospital in Rome.
“Dear brothers and sisters: Buongiorno,” the pope said, smiling and waving to the well-wishers who had gathered in the vast courtyard in front of the hospital’s main entrance. The crowd — a mix of Romans, tourists, nuns, priests, medical students and hospital staff — applauded and waved back. They also cheered loudly and called out, “Viva il Papa,” or, “Long live the pope.”
After thanking the faithful for their prayers during his recovery, Francis, 84, praised Italy’s national health service.
“In these days of being hospitalized, I have experienced once again how important good health care is — accessible to all, as it is in Italy and in other countries,” he said. “This precious benefit must not be lost. It needs to be kept.”
Francis appeared to be in good spirits, although his voice seemed weak at times. But for the first time since the pope’s surgery July 4, the Vatican did not issue a medical update at noon.
Hundreds braved the sweltering heat Sunday to greet Francis in person, and doctors and other members of the medical staff handed out bottled water to the crowd.
“He seems in good shape,” said Monica Frinci, a postal worker in Rome, who said she was “very moved” to see the pope. “I got the sense he was serene,” she added.
Gianna Guastafierro, from Boscoreale, near Pompeii, said she “could have watched the Angelus on TV, but it was important to come.”
“I am sure he’ll recover soon,” she said, her voice breaking. “He’s supported by the prayers of the entire world.”
The pope normally leads the Angelus prayer and blessing on Sundays from a window in the Apostolic Palace overlooking St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. That routine, however, was altered during the pandemic, and for weeks at a time, when Italy was under lockdown, he instead broadcast the prayer live from a Vatican library.
The announcement July 4 of the pope’s unexpected hospitalization for what the Vatican said was “scheduled” colon surgery sowed perhaps unnecessary alarm. Francis had half of his colon removed and is recovering on the 10th floor of Gemelli hospital — part of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, which first came to be globally recognized after Pope John Paul II was admitted after being shot in 1981.
Hospitalized at Gemelli on several occasions, John Paul more than once led the Angelus prayer from his room on the 10th floor, the same now used by Francis, and he would greet people in the courtyard from a window when he could.
A large statue of John Paul was installed in that courtyard in 2009, and Sunday, it provided a scenic backdrop to a choir of young female French students, accompanied by Dominican nuns, who serenaded Francis.
“It’s important for our pastor to know that his children are with him,” said the Rev. Massimiliano Maria Spezia, a Roman priest who went to the hospital to pray alongside the pontiff.
On Sunday, Francis also expressed his appreciation for and encouragement to the staff of Gemelli and other hospitals. “They work so hard,” he said.
He called on the faithful to pray for all those who are sick.
Introducing “some friends” standing next to him on the balcony — several children who are patients of the hospital’s oncology department — the pope said, “Why children suffer is a question that touches the heart.”
“Accompany them with prayer and pray for all those who are sick,” he added, “especially for those in the most difficult conditions. May no one be left alone.”
After the Vatican said last week that Francis had wanted to express “his paternal closeness to the little patients” of the hospital’s oncology and neurosurgery departments, the children responded with a hand-drawn card, wishing the pope a speedy recovery.
“Even if we can’t see you, we send you a big hug,” they wrote in the card posted on the hospital’s website.
After delivering the Angelus prayer, Francis said that last week, his prayers had been “aimed at Haiti,” recognizing the assassination July 7 of President Jovenel Moïse and the wounding of his wife, Martine Moïse. Expressing his closeness to the Haitian people, Francis said he had joined the appeal of the bishops of Haiti to “lay down weapons, choose life, choose to live together fraternally in the interest of all and in the interest of Haiti.”
Sunday was dedicated to seafarers and those who make a living from the sea. Francis called on “everyone” to “take care of the health of the seas — no plastic in the sea!” he said, to applause.
And he wished everyone a happy Sunday and asked those present to pray for him. “Enjoy your lunch,” he said, smiling and waving. “Arrivederci.”
“Viva il Papa!” the crowd cheered.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.